Ben Franklin on SOTU: Here comes the orator! With his flood of words, and his drop of reason

The Patriot PostBrief · Monday, February 1, 2010

The Foundation "Here comes the orator! With his flood of words, and his drop of reason." --Benjamin Franklin

Opinion in Brief

SOTU:"The Constitution requires that the president 'from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union.' But it doesn't mandate the modern pageant of pomp, circumstance, and phony promises we suffer through every year. In fact, for most of the Republic's first century, the SOTU was a modest, informational affair. Presidents sent the written address to Congress, to be read aloud by a clerk. That was thanks to President Jefferson, who thought delivering the speech before Congress assembled smacked too much of a king's 'Speech from the Throne.' When the power-hungry Woodrow Wilson overturned the Jeffersonian tradition in 1913, one senator cursed the revival of 'the old Federalistic custom of speeches from the throne,' calling it a 'cheap and tawdry imitation of English royalty.' The speech only got worse from there, especially after the advent of television and LBJ's decision to move the address to prime time. That sealed the SOTU's transformation into the modern ritual, in which the president stands at the front of the House chamber making exorbitant promises that would shame a carny barker, while congresscritters stand and clap like members of the Supreme Soviet cheering a Brezhnev speech." --columnist Gene Healy, vice president at the Cato Institute


"The central fact of the [State of the Union] speech was the contradiction at its heart. It repeatedly asserted that Washington is the answer to everything. At the same time it painted a picture of Washington as a sick and broken place. It was a speech that argued against itself: You need us to heal you. Don't trust us, we think of no one but ourselves. The people are good but need guidance -- from Washington. The middle class is anxious, and its fears can be soothed -- by Washington. Washington can 'make sure consumers ... have the information they need to make financial decisions.' Washington must 'make investments,' 'create' jobs, increase 'production' and 'efficiency.' At the same time Washington is a place 'where every day is Election Day,' where all is a 'perpetual campaign' and the great sport is to 'embarrass your opponents' and lob 'schoolyard taunts.' Why would anyone have faith in that thing to help anyone do anything?" --columnist Peggy Noonan

Political Futures

"If President Obama took any lesson from his party's recent drubbing in Massachusetts, and its decline in the polls, it seems to be that he should keep doing what he's been doing, only with a little more humility, and a touch more bipartisanship. That's our reading of [Wednesday] night's lengthy State of the Union address, which mostly repackaged the President's first-year agenda in more modest political wrapping. ... On health care, Mr. Obama offered a Willy Loman-esque soliloquy on his year-long effort, as if his bill's underlying virtues and his own hard work haven't been truly appreciated by the American public. He showed no particular willingness to compromise, save for a claim that he was open to other ideas. ... Mr. Obama's economic pitch also differed little from last year, when the jobless rate was 7.2%. He offered a spirited defense of the stimulus, though the jobless rate is now 10%, and he promised more of the same this year, especially on 'green jobs.' ... [H]e couldn't resist more banker baiting, and he promised that he's determined to see tax rates rise for millions of Americans next year when the Bush rates are set to expire. He also pushed more exports while saying he'll raise taxes on some of our biggest exporters, otherwise known as multinationals that 'ship our jobs overseas.' Mr. Obama believes he can conjure jobs and a durable expansion from the private sector while waging political war on its animal spirits. It can't be done. This reflects a larger problem, which is his belief that economic growth springs mainly from the genius of government." --The Wall Street Journal